"Manuscript: something submitted in haste, and returned at leisure."
It's done. It's as good as you can make it. You've polished it within an inch of its life. You've walked around with these characters in your head for months, maybe years, and now finally, you've typed the two most beautiful words in the English language.
But it's not quite the end, is it? I mean, there it is, all 400 glorious pages of it. All your blood, sweat and tears reduced to ink on wood pulp and it's just sitting there waiting for you to do the thing that requires even more courage than writing in the first place.
You must submit it.
Where to start? Do your homework. Which publishing houses already publish works that are similar to yours? Check out their websites for submission guidelines. Are there any publisher sponsored contests you can enter?
Find a published author who writes in your sub-genre and check out her acknowledgements page or her website. Did she list her editor? Her agent? These are people who might also be interested in you.
If you're very trepidacious, dabble your toes in the water by entering a few contests. Target contests with editors as judges. Check the RWR for contests where the final judges are agents or editors you think would be a good match for your work.
If you want a writing career, you will want an agent at some point. Several major houses do not accept unagented submissions.
So ask for recommendations, check the websites, query some of their clients (most reputable agents list their clients on their websites) and if you like what you hear, follow the submission guidelines on their website to the letter and submit. This involves a query letter, probably a partial (first 3 chapters) and synopsis. If the agent accepts simultaneous submissions, let them know if you are submitting elsewhere. That's just good manners.
Expect to wait. For a long time. You may, after a few weeks, call or write or email to inquire whether your submission was received. Do not badger them into a decision because I promise it will be no. If an agent decides he/she loves your work (yes, I used the "L" word. You don't want an agent who's lukewarm about you) they will make an offer of representation. If you still want them to represent you, sign an agreement.
But a word of warning. You're getting into financial bed with this person. No agent is far better than the wrong agent. Be wary. Once a publisher pays your agent, their responsibility is fulfilled. All your writing income will be funneled through your agent. Make sure you've signed with someone whose financial house is in order and whose ethics are spotless.
If you receive an offer directly from a publisher, do not scream orgasmically, "Yes, oh, yes, I'll take anything." Calmly thank them and ask if you can have a few days to secure representation. They'll respect you for it. Then you can scream once you hang up. And call the agent of your dreams. While a reputable agent prefers to be involved in the projects they represent from its inception, you will get an agent with an offer on the table. Again, make sure it's the right one.
While you're waiting to sell, your job is to start the next project. Once you receive an offer, the publisher's 2nd question is always "What else have you got?" You want to have an answer ready.
I'd be happy to answer any questions about submissions and if I don't know I'll try to point you to someone who does.
I'm also blogging at Mia Marlowe's blog about The Road Not Taken today. Love to see you there too!